Thursday, 23 February 2012

In like a lion, out like a lamb!

This is a copy of my church magazine article for March 2012

Popular wisdom says that ‘March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.’

Of course, that proverb refers to the weather, and I guess it’s true that the month often begins with gales roaring in, and ends much more gently.

It got me thinking about the lion and the lamb. We know that the lion is pretty much at the top of the food chain, and the lamb would be fair game! When the boy David went to King Saul and offered to fight Goliath, he told the king of his qualifications for the job: ‘Your servant has been keeping his father's sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it’ (1 Samuel 17:34-35). It confirms what we know: left to their own devices, lions will kill and eat lambs! It points to a reality in our world: that the powerful tend to take advantage of the vulnerable, the rich becoming richer and the poor, poorer.

Yet the Bible points us to a different vision of how things one day will be! The prophet Isaiah speaks the word of the Lord: ‘Behold I will create new heavens and a new earth’ (Isaiah 65:17). As the chapter unfolds, we find that this re-creation involves fruitful and peaceful lives for all, and that lamb and wolf will lie down together, whilst the lion will eat straw like the ox. What we call the natural order of things will be overturned! One day!

I think that God calls us towards that vision now. He calls us to reduce the disparity and bridge the gap. One organization seeking to do that in Peterborough is ‘Hope into Action’. Their director, Ed Walker, will be sharing with us on 11th March about how they are providing homes for ex-offenders and homeless people. We will find out how we can be a part of that. Another organization is our own Inspirations Studio, seeking to provide opportunities and support for young people in the city of Peterborough. Stuart Mathers would be glad to receive your offer of help with that.

What more of the lion and the lamb? Revelation 5 brings the two together. The risen Christ is both Lion and Lamb. He is fierce and gentle. He overcomes the disparities that exist in the world by his atoning sacrifice. He is God’s chosen instrument of re-creation.

Perhaps lion and lamb, fierce and gentle, is what we should be in serving God in His world? We should be confronting injustice and inequality, but doing it tenderly and with love!

Be fierce and gentle for Christ!

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Spirit Break Out (Part Two)

A couple of good points from my visit to last week's 'Spirit Break Out' event:

  1. Tim Hughes reminded us that we should aim to shape culture rather than be shaped by it. I agree!
  2. Tim suggested that we are a generation with more ways to communicate than any before us, yet we have less to say. Again, I agree! Perhaps it is a case of the medium not only obscuring the message, but replacing it too? Beware, Christians, the danger of being so shaped by our culture of communication that we obscure the Living Word who has communicated himself to us!

Friday, 3 February 2012

Spirit Break Out!

Last evening, I went to the latest leg of the Spirit Break Out tour. The tour emanates from Worship Central, which has close connections with Holy Trinity Church, Brompton, the home of the Alpha Course. The evening was led by Tim Hughes (writer of such songs as ‘Light of the world’ and ‘The greatest day in history’), assisted by three other solo singers and the usual array of musicians.

It was a good evening, attended by 1000 or so people and yet I felt curiously detached from it. Before you ask: yes, I was there to enjoy worshipping God; yes, there almost certainly is unconfessed sin in my life (isn’t there with all of us?), but none I could call to mind! So I was there without any particular baggage.

In fact, I spent much of the evening comparing the experience with my last visit to see U2 in concert in August 2009! I decided that I was more aware of God’s presence there than at yesterday’s concert. Lyrics such as ‘I was born, I was born to be with you’ (Magnificent), and ‘You heard me in my tune, when I just heard confusion’ (All because of you) spoke to me more than those of Tim Hughes et al. I was more caught up in worship (or emotion?) with 50000 other U2 fans than with the 1000 worshippers. At the U2 concert, perhaps 5% of the crowd had a Christian faith. Last might, one assumes it would have been at least 95%.

So why did the U2 concert allow me to worship more freely? In no particular order:

  • AtU2, I knew the songs – pretty much word for word! Last night, I knew perhaps half of the songs. My own church is not exactly on the cusp of the latest worship songs, but we do use some newer ones! However, I think churches often over-estimate the ability of a congregation to learn new songs. I usually work on the rule of no more than one per service, if that.
  • U2 did not have to pretend that it was a rock concert! They, and we, knew that it was. ‘Spirit Break Out’ tried to take on the attributes of a rock concert, with light show, dry ice and seven lampstands (I wondered if there was going to be any significance in that?). For me, there was a sense of hype being generated so that the Spirit would come!
  • U2’s lyrics are more nuanced and thought-provoking e.g. ‘Yahweh, Yahweh, always pain before a child is born’. Today’s writers of Christian songs tend to fall into religious cliché, and even to reclaim clichéd lyrics of the past. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that – we are comforted by the familiar, and our beliefs are reinforced – but there is often no sense of anything new in today’s worship songs.
  • The U2 concert was more evangelistic, though I doubt it set out to be so! Like ‘Spirit Break Out’, it was there for the fans. Unlike ‘Spirit Break Out’, many of those fans were ‘unconverted’ to Christ. They came with many questions about life, where Christians tend to come with many answers. Yes, I believe that Christ is the answer! Yet I believe that we must all be allowed space to ask our questions and express our doubts about life, the universe and everything! Maybe a U2 concert is a more effective place for that?

I can’t deny that most at last night’s concert were engaging with God in worship. I’m just thinking that worship is so much more than we sometimes make it.